An Introduction to the University of Oxford

As I'll be writing lots about Oxford in the upcoming year (or years), I figure I'd better write a bit about the university. I'll give a brief history, a rundown of how the university operates, explain some common Oxford terms and traditions, and write a bit about my specific course.

A Brief History

The University of Oxford was first established in roughly 1096, making it the oldest university in the English speaking world. It became popular in 1167 after English students were banned from attending the University of Paris by Henry II. Women were first allowed to take exams in 1875 but were not considered members of the university until 1920. Oxford has since grown to about 12,000 undergraduate and 11,000 postgraduate students and the campus is spread around the city of Oxford. Notable alumni include Bill Clinton, Stephen Hawking, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, John Locke, and countless UK prime ministers and political leaders around the world. The city of Oxford also has more published authors in one square mile than any other city in the world.

University Structure

Oxford is made up of 38 colleges. Yes, this is like Harry Potter's Hogwarts where students are sorted into a house. My college is Jesus College, established 1571 by Queen Elizabeth I, which is traditionally a Welsh theology college and first accepted women in 1974. Notable alumni include T.E. Lawrence and Jesus College is known as the friendly college. I chose this college based on the number of advisors in my department and the amount of future funding available to me. Other colleges include Keble, St. Anne's, and Christ Church (home to the Harry Potter dining hall). While Oxford admits students and awards degrees, colleges provide food, housing, advising, and pretty much everything else that university students need.

Unlike many universities, Oxford's teaching style is unique. Undergraduates have a tutor who they meet for instruction. They learn mostly independently by reading and writing a whole heck of a lot. As a taught MSc student, I will be attending classes for my first two terms, after which I will sit my exams. Instead of taking class-specific exams, Oxford taught MSc exams come after each class is completed. If I score well enough, I will being my doctorate - three years of research. If I pass my exams, but don't score well enough to continue straight onto my doctorate, then I will spend the rest of the year doing my own research project and be awarded a MSc. My course runs from the first Monday in October until the first Friday in September, 2018. This will be extended until the first Friday in September in 2020 if I go on to my DPhil.

Terms and Traditions

to sit an exam - to take an exam

studying / reading for - enrolled in a course, pursuing a degree

DPhil - PhD, doctorate of philosophy

matriculation - official welcoming to the university

subfusc - academic dress worn during matriculation, graduation, examinations, important meetings with advisors or department heads, and during formal dinners in college. This consists of a black skirt with black tights or black trousers, plain black shoes, a white button-up shirt, a black neck ribbon or tie, and sleeveless black robes. A mortar board may also be worn

Oxford ball - large, formal parties thrown by colleges. Usually in the Spring or Summer.

Michaelmas - term beginning early October through early December

Hilary - term beginning mid-January through mid-March

Trinity - term beginning late April through mid- or late June

Formal Hall - College hosted dinner where subfusc is sometimes worn. Often times once a week or once a month depending on college tradition. Advisors sit at a head table and latin is often read aloud. This dinner is often a three or four course dinner

The Bod - The Bodleian library, the largest library in Oxford

MCR - the Middle Common Room, the postgraduate social organization and physical place for social activities at each college

OUCE - Oxford University Center for the Environment

Oxbridge - term used to describe Oxford and Cambridge universities

Papers - exams

PGT / PGR - postgraduate taught / postgraduate research

School - can mean a department or where exams are taken

Sheldonian Theater - where matriculation and graduation is held

Radcliffe Camera - the science library

This will be updated as I become more familiar with Oxford slang and traditions.

My Course

I am studying for a MSc in Biodiversity, Conservation and Management with the School of Geography and the Environment in OUCE. This is a one year, two term taught course with a large research component. I'll have the option to continue to a doctorate after my exams if I score well enough. Below is a picture of the course structure and an example of the classes that I'll take. This is for the 2016/17 year, so my course may be slightly different. I may adventure to somewhere slightly different than Tenerife, for example. I will also be taking a number of electives that I will complete independently between terms.

Oxford is a unique institution which allows its students to pursue a thesis of almost anything they choose. I will be able to pick a topic that interests me as long as there is at least one professor in the university that can advise me during my research. This gives me the freedom to learn exactly what I want to learn instead of doing research in a professor's lab.

I endeavor to update this blog weekly, but more likely monthly, to keep readers updated about what life at Oxford is like.


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